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Trump rally brings exposure to local airport

Trump rally brings exposure to local airport

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Smith Reynolds Airport Director Mark Davidson estimates that 7,000 to 9,000 supporters of President Donald Trump packed the area in front of the airport terminal on Tuesday, with the arrival of the president and Air Force One giving the local airport a nice profile boost.

And Democratic nominee Joe Biden's more than welcome to come as well, Davidson said.

Davidson was able to look out over the whole scene of the Trump rally from his perch inside the terminal building, and did some numbers estimates while he was watching.

Davidson said his crowd number is based on his experience in running air shows, but cautioned that his estimate is nothing official: After all, when an air show occurs, the airport keeps a count of people coming inside.

President Trump estimated the crowd at 15,000, but Davidson said that number was too high.

The Journal initially undercounted and estimated the crowd at a couple thousand.

Davidson said advance planning for the event involved meetings with the Secret Service, U.S. Air Force and White House staff.  

As planning progressed, the campaign adjusted its estimate of how many people would be attending, Davidson said.

"At first, it was a couple thousand," Davidson said. "But they didn't want to turn down anyone so the numbers kept increasing. That was a consideration for where the location would be. It was evident early on that they needed the main ramp."

With so many people calling in to the campaign to attend, Davidson said, campaign officials finally told him they were planning on as many as 15,000 people showing up.

The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office was the lead local law enforcement agency working the Trump appearance, although the Winston-Salem Police Department also assisted with logistics and security, according to Capt. Mike Weaver, police captain of special operations.

"We did not have any city counting devices present," Weaver said, noting that without technology, "there is no exact science" to estimating a crowd.

"It is one of those things we would like to know, but unfortunately there is no way of knowing," Weaver said, speaking of events that have no fixed number attending. "Things can be impacted by the weather. We try to be prepared."

LaShanda Millner, the public relations manager for the sheriff's office, said that in one advance meeting, it was estimated that 10,000 people would attend, but that the number was revised down to 5,000 at a later meeting.

During the planning, Millner said, the actual date for the event was changed and then on the same day moved back to the date that it actually occurred.

Davidson said the runway at Smith Reynolds Airport measures 6,655 feet — too short, he said, to handle the Boeing 747 that often serves as Air Force One. The plane that brought Trump to Winston-Salem was smaller, a Boeing 757. 

"Air Force One is whichever aircraft the president is on," Davidson said. "They have a 747, and then the 757, which is more capable of the runway length we have at Smith Reynolds Airport. We have handled 737s and 757s, but we can't handle an Airbus 380 or a 747.

Not as many people saw the big C-17 military transport planes that came to Smith Reynolds Airport in advance of the presidential visit. The cargo planes can carry tanks and other heavy equipment. Here, they dropped off the vehicles of the presidential motorcade and helicopter. 

The C-17s came in, unloaded and left before the rally. Some people got to see them come back in on Wednesday to do the pickup.

Davidson said, adding that the presidential visit didn't cost the airport any money because the Trump campaign handled all the setup for the event.

"The airport name was mentioned nationwide," Davidson said. "It was great visibility for the airport, and we were not going to turn down Air Force One."

336-727-7369 

@wyoungWSJ

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